October Birding in the Northeast Kingdom

My family went away for a few days last week–took a trip south while I stayed home and worked. Since they were gone for a while I thought I would take a weekend day to do some birding some place new. I thought about driving out of state–maybe to Plum Island or to the Maine coast somewhere. But then I thought I would stay close to home. There are lots of places in Vermont I have not been at all, and plenty where I have not been birding. So I headed north and east on Sunday morning to see what I could find.

A couple hours of driving took me to Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. I parked in a pull-off on a dirt road and headed out with binoculars in hand. Just down the road was a bog with lots of standing dead trees. I thought this might be a good spot to find Black-Backed Woodpeckers. That was a no go, but I did see and hear lots of other birds–Juncos, White Throated Sparrows, Ruby Crowned and Golden Crowned Kinglets. I had read about a trail off this road that offered good birding habitat and and access to Moose Bog. It took me a bit to be sure I had the right spot, but eventually I turned off into the woods.

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Cedar and spruce and moss–where are the Spruce Grouse?

The day was cold (eventually it hit 40 degrees but not until the afternoon) and the woods were quiet. I was hoping to find at least one of four species I can’t find at home: Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Black Backed Woodpecker and Spruce Grouse. The habitat was there but the birds were not. I walked slowly, headed down a side trail to Moose Bog in a couple of spots but I struck out. Maybe it was too cold, maybe it was just the wrong time of year. It was certainly beautiful, and peaceful, and I was happy to explore.

Moose Bog

Moose Bog

Once I tapped out Wenlock I drove up the road to find the Sylvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. I found a loop trail and tried that, with only a few Black Capped Chickadees, more Golden Crowned Kinglets, and a Robin or two. Again, quiet. I headed back up the road to the visitor’s center to try there. That place is beautiful–a stone and wood building with a fine view, some displays, information and lots to learn. I tried the river trail that loops from there.

Golden Crowned Kinglets were the bird of the day for sure. There was another passel of them here, flitting and singing and making themselves known. The trail wound by the river, which was high, so I couldn’t hear much for a good ways. Again, I found few birds but the place was beautiful, even after peak foliage had passed. If felt great just to be out there. I just don’t do that enough.

Nulhegan River

Nulhegan River

The color to be noted that day was yellow. Aspens were still holding on to yellow leaves and tamaracks were turning and shedding needles. Yellow dotted the hills and any open spots in the woods, and a carpet of yellow needles covered the ground in spots. It was cold, it was calm, and I felt energized by the quiet of it all.

Tamarack needles on the trail

Tamarack needles on the trail

If you see all those four species I was seeking in one day you can call it the Northeast Kingdom birding grand slam. I was pitched a no-hitter. But I will go back there one of these days. There is a state park nearby and maybe this summer we can go up as a family. Maybe in the summer I can manage to get a hit, even if I don’t hit it over the fence.

Birds I saw that day:

Canada Goose
American Crow
Common Raven
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Capped Chickadee
Red Breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Eastern Bluebird
Golden Crowned Kinglet
Ruby Crowned Kinglet
Swamp Sparrow
White Throated Sparrow
Dark Eyed Junco

Day 44: Frost and Kinglet

This morning we had frost. When I left the house at 5:15 AM the temperature was 29 degrees. I wore a fleece layer, gloves, and a hat. That is not all I wore, of course, but I have not worn those items in many days. It was chilly.  When the air is cold and clear, that early in the day, before the sun is really roused, I appreciate again the beauty of the place I live. The horizon was pink and the thinnest crescent moon rose over Camel’s Hump. Two geese honked over head as I walked down the driveway. My misted breath danced out over the greening field.

I had that same soreness again this morning. My Achilles tendon has been letting me know it wants some attention lately. I have not totally ignored it, but I haven’t paid attention to its whining either. Today I kept the run to three miles and I walked some at the end to be safe. It is a bit of a nuisance. But it was a fine morning to be out, so I was content. After all, I will run again tomorrow.

There were lots of birds to be heard out there on that short run–red-winged blackbirds and robins and geese and ducks and song sparrows. Yesterday I was running on a narrow class IV section of road, where the trees are tight on each side. I thought I heard a ruby crowned kinglet singing. I stopped. Sure enough, in a tree right near me a little bird hopped from branch to branch and belted out its complicated flurry of notes. That little bird can sing like a champ, and I don’t hear them around here all that often. It was a treat. Then, as I passed over the river, I watched a great blue heron try to catch breakfast by the shore. It has been a good couple days for birds.

Today the high temperature is forecast to be 73 degrees. That is much warmer than 29. I am guessing we will get one more day of frost and that’s it. Today might have been our last one, but I like to plan on frost in early May. So I might get a crisp morning run in one more time. Either way, I’ll be out there. Tomorrow I get to sleep in. I’ll give the old ankle more than 24 hours rest. And then I’ll  put in a few more miles.